Apple makes great computers, but they're not always the cheapest to buy: a brand-new Mac can be a quick way to empty your bank account. Many Mac buyers therefore look at secondhand options. You can get a great deal by buying a refurbished Apple Mac computer from the Apple Store, or by picking up a secondhand computer from eBay or from your local Apple reseller.

Which is, of course, if you even know the Apple Refurb Store exists. Buying a new Mac is always a joy, but many people aren't aware that it is also possible to pick up a price-reduced, refurbished Mac from the Apple website. This guide will show you how to get a great deal on a Mac by checking out the Apple Refurb store and other reliable outlets.

See also: Buy the cheapest MacBook Air: Best price in store and Apple Refurb

Should I buy a refurbished Mac?

Buying a refurbished Mac from the Apple Refurb Store

One great trick that every Apple fan should know is how to pick up kit from the Apple Refurb Store. You can buy refurbished Apple Macs, as well as other Apple products, from this special section of the online store.

Click here to visit the Apple Refurb Store

Refurbished Macs are likely to be brand new but returned models (if it is from a previous year), or reconditioned current models. A reconditioned Mac could be an ex-demonstration model used during Apple teaching programmes, or a unit sold to a customer who decided to return it. The returned unit may have been faulty (and fixed) or may simply have been returned under the standard sale-and-returns procedure. (Apple allows any customer to return a Mac bought from the Apple Store within 14 days for a refund - see Standard Returns Policy).

We used to think that Apple Macs sold on the Refurb Store were old models that had not been sold. While this might be the case for some Macs on the Refurb Store, Tim Cook has made Apple's production so tight that the company is rumoured to turn over its entire inventory every five days (only McDonalds has a faster turnover). So Apple does not need to stockpile its products and Macs sold on the refurb store are second-hand.

The important thing to note is that Macs bought from the Apple Refurb Store are not discernibly different from new ones bought direct from the Apple Store. All Macs bought from the Apple Refurb Store are cleaned, checked, tested and visually indistinguishable from brand-new models.

Buying a refurbished Mac: What is the warranty and returns procedure?

Buying a refurbished Mac from the Apple Refurb Store

Apple states: "Before we put a refurbished Mac, iPod, iPad or Apple TV up for sale in Special Deals, it undergoes a rigorous refurbishment process to make sure it's up to Apple's tough quality standards." (iPhones are not currently sold through the Refurbished Store.)

More importantly, a reconditioned Mac comes with the same one-year warranty (extendable to three years with AppleCare protection.) You also get the same sales and return procedure with Apple, and can return a Mac bought from the Refurb Store within 14 days if you're not happy with it.

The only noticeable difference from our experience is that an Apple Refurb Mac will be packaged in a brown box rather than the white retail box they normally arrive in. Aside from that we have yet to pick up a Mac from the Refurb Store and find it wanting.

The price for reconditioned Macs changes frequently but is typically 10 to 20 percent less than the original price. With Macs commanding a high retail price this can be quite a difference. For example, a 13.3-inch MacBook Air can be found on the Refurb Store for £719, a £130 saving on the £849 you'd pay for the exact same model on the Apple Store.

Buying a Mac from the Refurb Store? Check the specifications carefully

Because Many Macs on the refurb store are last year's models you should check the specifications carefully. It's worth noting that most new Macs contain the very latest high-end components, so even last year's model from the Apple Refurb Store tends to have quite high specification components.

Apple is also known to remove specifications that you might be interested in: last year's Mac mini has a FireWire 800 port, for example, whereas the new model has two Thunderbolt 2 connections. Apple has also been moving towards more fixed parts in its new Macs, and older Macs may have more upgradable options (you can upgrade the RAM in last year's Mac mini mode, for example, but not in this year's Mac mini).

It's worth taking a look at the Refurb Store if you deliberately want to pick up an older model. Apple is often quick off the mark to phase out features it deems no longer necessary, such as optical drives, FireWire sockets, replaceable hard drives and so on. So some people may genuinely prefer an earlier model with a feature they don't quite want to live without just yet.

Be careful when comparing prices, because Apple lists the saving that relates to the price of the model when it was on sale (not the current edition). Many Macs have fallen in price in the past year so be sure to compare the price of the refurb model against the price of the current equivalent on the store.

Buying a new Mac from Apple

On the other hand, there is nothing quite so nice as buying a brand-new Mac. Your first point of call when buying any new Mac should be to go to either Apple's online store, or a physical Apple Retail Store. It's worth noting that the price you pay is identical in either instance, so it merely depends on whether you want to have it shipped to your door, or would prefer the experience of buying one from an Apple retail environment.

See: Which Mac to get: Macworld buying guide

Buying a new Mac from Amazon

But the Apple Store isn't the only place to pick up a new Mac. It's usually worth checking Amazon, which often sells brand new Apple products at a slight discount (but any saving is always welcome).

Be warned that Amazon acts as a marketplace for other online sellers, and although it guarantees the initial condition and timely delivery of the MacBook Air, the ongoing guarantee that it'll work is between you and whatever company sold the MacBook Air though the Amazon store. However, Apple itself will honour any repairs within warranty on any Apple products no matter where it was bought.

One thing to be careful about when buying a Mac from a third-party reseller is that you may be getting a US or overseas model (because they are cheap to import and sell on in the UK). You can tell a UK Mac from a US model because it has a slightly different keyboard (the US model has a '#' symbol instead of the '£' symbol). While this isn't a problem for most people, and Apple coverage is global, some people want a UK model.

Buying a secondhand Mac from eBay

Amazon and eBay are also worth considering, although where possible we'd recommend you opt for new, discounted Macs. Buying a second-hand Mac on eBay is a more risky business.

That said, in November last year, we reported that Apple was believed to have begun selling refurbished iPads, MacBooks and iPods on eBay, through an eBay store labelled "Refurbished Outlet". However, Apple shut that store after some months.

Buying and selling anything on sites like eBay can be fraught with problems, but this is particular true with high-value products such as computers. The old adage runs 'buyer beware', but sellers need to take precautions as well. In a bid to make money quickly, it is easy to be talked into handing over what you’re selling for much less than it is worth. Having done your research, be prepared to stand your ground. You may have to give way slightly on price, but don't be swayed too much.

Buying a new or secondhand Mac from an Apple reseller

If you're going to buy from used or independent shops, your best bet is to seek out a certified Apple Premium Reseller. These are dealers and service providers certified by Apple for their expertise and quality. These can be found up and down the UK and Republic of Ireland. (You can find your nearest Apple Premium Reseller here and in the Republic of Ireland here.)

These will try to meet or exceed the service you'd get at an Apple Store - and prices may be cheaper then buying from Apple. We've often spotted Apple Premium Reseller stores having special events and discounts, normally when stores open for the first time in a new location. In the past Apple Premium Reseller Stormfront has offered customers 10 percent off of any Mac purchased or ordered from the new stores in Luton and Epson on opening day.

Some resellers may offer discounts on older Mac models shortly after a new one launches, so look out for bargains!

If you prefer shopping with a retailer that you're familiar with, then John Lewis offers a two-year warranty on all Apple products as standard, which is twice as long as the standard one year offered by Apple. John Lewis also offers a three-year warranty MacBook Air deal for £150. This compares favourably with Apple's own AppleCare Protection, which is essentially a three-year warranty for £199.

Finally, take a look at Macworld's own reseller service, which buys and sells a range of secondhand Apple products.

See: AppleCare: is it worth paying for?